Colorado Community College System Students Help Coloradans Access Over $6 Million in Tax Refunds

Student-volunteers from seven Colorado Community College System colleges have helped return $6 million to the bank accounts of Coloradans, who live paycheck to paycheck, via a unique program which pairs taxpayers with aspiring tax professionals.

The program, dubbed Tax Help Colorado, is a Piton Foundation-sponsored initiative that relies on the colleges of Colorado Community College System to provide free income-tax return preparation to lower- and moderate income working families via nine of the program’s location across Colorado.

The following chart shows how the students helped put money back in the pockets of taxpayers who showed up at sites in Alamosa, Aurora, Burlington, Denver, Fort Morgan, La Junta, Pueblo, Sterling and Trinidad.

Community College of Aurora 1181 $2,797,451
Community College of Denver  465 $1,037,323
Morgan Community College-Burlington   61 $   113,389
Morgan Community College-Ft. Morgan 343 $  707,865
Northeastern Junior College  224 $  414,931
Otero Junior College   66 $  100,240
Pueblo Community College 290 $  589,821
Trinidad State Junior College-Alamosa 120 $   162,756
Trinidad State Junior College-Trinidad   78 $   124,778
TOTAL 2,828 $6,048,554

“CCCS and our students are pleased to be helping return $6 million dollars to Colorado taxpayers for them to use in these difficult budget times,” remarked CCCS President Dr. Nancy McCallin.

“Tax Help Colorado is truly a win-win program for all involved,” said Tamra Schmitt, coordinator of the program for Community College of Aurora (the first site to offer the program when it was launched back in 2007). “The taxpayers benefit by avoiding tax preparation fees and working with friendly, well-qualified preparers. The student-volunteers benefit by providing a useful community service, while at the same time gaining valuable hands-on tax preparation experience.”

Schmitt added that “it is very rewarding to see how our positive reputation has brought more and more taxpayers to seek our services each year, resulting in such tremendous growth.” She said that “a pretty impressive” 1,265 volunteer hours went into the preparation of the returns this year. The program is designed to help taxpayers whose annual household income is less than about $49,000.

According to census figures, about 30% of Colorado families are eligible for the program. In particular, Tax Help Colorado targets lower-income working families who are eligible for tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. For these families, who are struggling to make ends meet, paying a paid tax preparer $175 or more to have their tax return done is not a very feasible option.

Students at the participating colleges take an accredited course on income tax preparation (ACC 132), usually in the fall semester. This course gives them Internal Revenue Service certification to provide free income tax preparation services. In the spring semester, students who have taken the income tax class operate the free Tax Help Colorado tax preparation service at the college, for which they receive college credit (ACC 133). Trained volunteers from the community sometimes work at the tax sites too, and nonprofit organizations serving working families help advertise the service.

The Piton Foundation, which sponsors the program, is working to expand the model over the next three years until it is operating statewide.

The Piton Foundation is a private, operating foundation established in 1976 by Denver oil man Sam Gary. The foundation is supported principally by contributions from Gary-Williams Energy Corporation and is considered the community investment division of the oil company. Piton’s mission is to provide opportunities for children and their families to move from poverty and dependence to self-reliance.

The Colorado Community College System comprises the state’s largest system of higher education serving more than 151,000 students annually. CCCS oversees career and academic programs in the 13 state community colleges and career and technical programs in more than 160 school districts and seven other post-secondary institutions.

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